I once described myself as “pathologically verbal.”
Writing is a form of self-expression. A practical method of documentation. A tool to create order out of chaos.
Writing also requires regular breaks: to quiet the frenzied tempest of words, and to evade the smothering solitude. One finds oneself on the brink of going just a bit mad: overthinking each word, compulsively re-reading and re-writing, then questioning aloud (to no one in particular) if there is any point to writing at all.
It was three in the afternoon, and the sun blazed outside. Inside, writer’s block had risen up like a brick wall in the light-filled apartment. It was no use. I had to walk away. So, I walked to the kitchen. A 5-poundbox of peaches sat on the windowsill, and my friend had suggested using some to make clafoutis. Never one eschew baked goods, I pulled down a cookbook from atop the refrigerator and thumbed through it.
Essentially a thick pancake with fruit dumped into the middle, the recipe calls for flour, sugar, salt, eggs, milk, and fruit. We were out of flour and milk. Pancake mix and white wine would just have to do. Julia Child suggested parboiling the peaches, so as to peel them with ease, leaving their flesh extra juicy amidst the dense cake. Skinning the soft, slick fruit sounded mindless and tedious: just the thing my mind needed to stop spinning.
Hair up and hands washed, I preheated the oven, set out the ingredients, and put water on to boil. Now all I needed was music. As is often the case, Etta James’ “Tell Mama”just made sense. I gently dropped the peaches into boiling water, retrieving them with a wooden spoon promptly after 10 seconds.
They cooled quickly, and I sat at the kitchen table with a trashcan at my knees. One by one, I peeled off their gossamer skin, then halved them, and dumped them in a glass bowl to soak with white wine and brown sugar.
Suddenly, I saw myself from the outside: slightly hunched over the can, my elbows on my knees, carefully peeling peaches, and wailing along with “I’d Rather Go Blind.” It reminded me of shucking corn on the front porch steps as a young girl—a reliable chore, and one I always liked, because it had a clear beginning and end.
I then realized why my family had always told me I was the spitting image of my maternal grandmother:
a raven-haired woman who was prone to “nerves,”but loved to cook, and had a laugh that made her whole body jiggle.
And for the first time in a long while, I did not feel like I was floating away, but rather, that I had come from somewhere. I felt light and clear, but deliberate.
I strained the peaches of their sweet, boozy juice and beat it into the pancake mix, along with 3 eggs. I improvised by adding a generous glug of olive oil and roughly chopped almonds to the batter.
Layered with the fruit in a cast iron skillet, the cake emerged golden brown from the oven 35 minutes later.
And while it was delicious, the taste could not compare to the process of making it, all by myself, in that dimly lit Colorado kitchen.